After you have convinced your students that community service isn’t only what you do when you’re ordered by the court, then you can begin the tedious process of selecting a project. But don’t just select a project and tell the students that this is what they have to do. With service learning, it is vital that students have ownership in the projects. How can that work?
Teachers or youth group leaders should be familiar with their community. One step that the teacher/facilitator can do is to research community service organizations in the area in advance. Animal shelters, nursing homes, food closets…What do they do? What do they need?
Students can assist with gathering this information, depending on the age of your students and the amount of time you have to devote to the service learning project. You can also have guest speakers from community organizations visit the class and share about their missions.
If your time schedule is limited to a few weeks, if you are working with younger students or if this is your first service learning project, then your project will run smoother if the teacher collects the preliminary information in advance. One issue that frequently comes up with service learning project ideas is the support of the administration. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have the permission of your school administration to pursue your project. Students get extremely disheartened when they have decided on a project only to have the idea shot down by the principal. Share a list of potential ideas with your principal in advance to see if there are anything you should avoid.
Here are some options for using student voice to choose the service project.
- Have students brainstorm and make a list of projects/community issues which interest them. Narrow down the list by discussing the feasibility of attempting the projects.
- Find out what talents and interests the students have, then brainstorm about how they can be used to help their community.
- Give students of list of potential community service projects and have them vote on one.
- After having a few guest speakers, have the students decide which organization they want to support.
Even if all students don’t agree on a single project, usually students will support the majority if they are able to use their own special skills. For example, maybe a group of musically gifted students wanted to go and sing for senior citizens, but the rest of the class wanted to do an anti bullying campaign. Perhaps the musical students can write a song about bullying to be performed for younger students.
Some teachers and facilitators even take on multiple service learning projects, which can be confusing, but it can work. The sky’s the limit.